Being The Only Women In The Room

admin Thursday, August 24, 2023 Comments Off on Being The Only Women In The Room

Although women continue to make strides in the modern workforce, there are still many male-dominated careers. Currently, the number of female emergency responders is still below 40 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The bureau also reports that women born between 1980 and 1984 were more likely to have earned a bachelor’s by age 31 than their male counterparts. 

Obviously, education is a key factor in a female’s opportunity to gain access into traditional male jobs. Female first responders can be found in law enforcement, firefighting and paramedic units, in the public health profession and in the public utilities field. 

Education may be how women get their foot in the door initially, but keeping that door open requires support through empowerment, networking and mentoring. 

For Heather Savoy, operations supervisor for Acadian Ambulance in Lake Charles, being the only woman in the room is something she’s always taken in stride. “I know I work in a field that has a lot of men, but I get along with men the same way as I do women. We are all human, regardless of our sex. I have a good sense of humor and don’t get offended or feel awkward when I’m surrounded by men.”

Sgt. Judith Wall

Savoy says she was inspired by her father, who was a firefighter and EMT. She says his example drove her initial interest in health care and helping people. “There were times we would be riding in the car, and he would see a wreck and stop to give aid until the ambulance arrived,” she says. “Once I graduated high school, I began college at McNeese in pursuit of a nursing degree. After two years, while sitting out a semester, my dad suggested that I become an EMT until I could finish college. I completed EMT school, was hired on at Acadian in 2010, and fell in love with being a medic. I never looked back at nursing school. I went on to Paramedic school; shortly after, I became a critical care paramedic. To me, being a paramedic is a rewarding job. Sometimes it’s stressful, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s also sometimes fun. Every day brings something different. Every day you get the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference.”

Laina Vincent, Acadian Air Med Flight Paramedic, also felt that call to make a difference. 

“I had a passion for taking care of others from a young age,” she says. “My own personal life has had many twists and turns. Everyone has their own obstacles; sometimes it’s an experience that is so challenging it takes us into a career path. I had to overcome a hard battle with addiction and have been successful for many years now. I truly feel that my best self is with a career that is made for those who are strong and carry a servant’s heart. I am proud and thankful for each day that I get to put on a flight suit and be of service to others in their time of most need.” 

Vincent, who’s also worked as a paramedic for Acadian Ambulance, as well as a remote paramedic on an offshore platform, knows only too well what it feels like to be the only woman on a job. “Sure, it can be intimidating at times, but God has blessed me with a gift that I am never hesitant about sharing.”

Sgt. Judith Wall of the Lake Charles Police Dept. says she never really thought about becoming a law enforcement officer as she was growing up. Veterinary medicine was her first dream, but she attended Sowela to study architecture. “Who knew there would be so much math?” she says. “I soon followed my brother’s footsteps and joined the military in 1995.” When a recruiter told Wall she could be an MP, she knew she’d found her calling. Five years later, she joined the LCPD. 

“Law enforcement can be very demanding and dangerous, but that’s what we train for. You need to be mentally and physically fit to succeed in this profession. Often, men have asked me if I was by myself, or if they were sending anyone else. I have had to let them know I was alone, but that I could handle the job, whatever it was. Being able to physically handle things is helpful, certainly, but being able to talk to people is just as important. Women bring compassion and caring to the table, which some men are not very good with. Rape and sexual assault victims prefer to speak to female officers, for obvious reasons.

“When female recruits start in law enforcement, I often tell them they will need to prove themselves to their peers, to show them they can do the job just as well as male officers. Just because females are generally smaller and perhaps not as strong as men, this does not mean females should not be accepted in law enforcement. Law enforcement needs females who can do this job.”

For retired Sulphur firefighter Tammy Ryan, it was another “woman in the room” who inspired her passion for her career. She was working in the computer field in Florida after receiving her associate’s. “My friend’s mother, June Geide, was a Broward County fire medic,” she says. “I used to listen to her scanner and waited to hear about her calls. My first mentor in firefighting was a strong female.”

While Ryan was in Houston for her brothers’ wedding, she realized it was a pivotal moment — her career plans were about to change. “We were at a party in an apartment community center where my brother lived. I was about to leave when a very physical domestic fight happened between a guy and girl. The guy was hit by a picture frame as he chased the girl in the parking lot. The thin glass severed his brachial artery under his armpit bicep area, spurting a large amount of blood. I was not trained in the emergency field yet, but I acted quickly and called 911, and I stopped the bleed by putting my hand on the wound. The guy remembered I said this to him while he was unconscious: ‘I hope you don’t have any diseases because I’m covered in your blood.’”

Post-surgery, the injured man asked to speak to the girl that helped him. “I went to meet him. Bandaged up, he hugged me and gave me a card that said he didn’t have any infectious diseases. His doctor told him that my quick actions saved his life. When I returned to Florida, I couldn’t wait to share my story with mom and June. They were excited, and June saw the passion I had. That’s when I started hanging around her at the fire department. At 29, I decided to change careers because I wanted to be a firefighter paramedic, and nothing was stopping me. I did not realize what the male to female ratio would be because, while in Florida, I’d met so many strong firefighters that were female. I did see the physical ability challenges and the 24/48-type shift work.”

Heather Savoy

Savoy sees both the nurturing and the physical aspects as essential in this work. “In my job, the goal is to get ourselves and our partner home safely, after every shift. Being in EMS, you do have to be strong physically and mentally. In intense situations, you are going to be the calm in the storm. You’re answering calls for people who are experiencing the worst day of their lives. You must come in confidently, knowing you are going to do what you were taught to do, and do your best to make the situation better. There are times where things don’t work out and you can’t save a person, but you always give it your all. You must learn to accept when there’s nothing more you can do. Physical strength is important because in our line of work we are picking people up, pulling people out of vehicles, loading people into the ambulance on the stretcher, and carrying heavy gear. Physical strength prevents personal injuries.”

Vincent is motivated by the opportunity to show that women can be powerful and successful in any field they choose. “Being a first responder requires many attributes such as strength, vigilance and drive, but over the years I have learned that this job requires much more. Traits such as empathy, optimism, trust, compassion and many other ‘delicate’ attributes are also necessary for anyone who works in this field.” 

Savoy concurs. “It is necessary to truly care for every patient. Look at them as if they were one of your own family members, because they are someone’s parent, someone’s child. How would I want a stranger to treat my family? How would I want this stranger coming to my aid to help me? 

“Remember, we are responding to people in their time of need. Regardless of how big or small the problem, they feel they need help and we are there to provide it. People remember their bad times, so I want them to also remember the kind, caring and confident paramedic that came to their aid or helped their loved one.”

Wall says these same personal feelings are part of her daily tasks. “Sure, my career is very exciting; I’m always dealing with different people from all walks of life, for all types of reasons, from a kid playing on the phone calling 911 to shots-fired calls and, yes, even homicides.  You never know what the next call will bring. It can be frustrating and challenging. You are often dealing with people having the worst day of their life, so you must be able to get those people to trust that you are truly there for them, to assure them that you want to help them. This is not always the easiest thing to do. It’s not always easy to put your personal feelings aside when handling calls. 

“Several years ago, we were working a drowning at North Beach, a three-year old. At the time my kids were 3 and 5. When the officer found the little boy, his grandmother came running to me wanting to see the little boy. My heart was hurting for that family, but I had to stay strong. I often still think about that little boy. This is just one example. I have been to so many calls that are challenging, mentally and physically.”

Ryan says being a mother brings additional challenges to the job.  “I realized I would need a support team as a single mother of a 3-year-old. I returned to Sulphur to pursue my dream. This is where I noticed an absence of women in the fire service. At the time I applied, in 1994, there were no females employed at a career fire department in Calcasieu Parish. But I was going to be a Sulphur Firefighter, and nothing was stopping me.” Ryan worked as an EMT at West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital in 1995, received her Paramedic certification from SOWELA in 1997, and got the job in Sulphur in 1999.

 “As I worked my way into a leadership role, I noticed the prejudice against women again. I had to be smarter, more fit and more focused, and prove myself constantly. The few bad situations I had were solved by male colleagues, though, men who had my back, stood up for me, and did the right thing. Those are the colleagues I will always remember, the ones who saw my ability and respected me as an equal.” 

Savoy has been on multiple deployments in her paramedic career, to areas affected by hurricanes, floods and the pandemic. Evacuations, rescues and 911 responses are part of her daily routine. 

“When Covid started, I was sent to New Orleans for a month, working with New Orleans EMS, assisting in 911 responses. That was a hard and trying time, but being able to assist during that difficult time was also rewarding. I am also one of the Region 5 EMS designated regional coordinators. As a DRC, I work with the Office of Public Health and the Office of Emergency Preparedness. Together we formulate plans and actions before, during and after disasters in SWLA. I became a DRC a few days prior to Hurricane Laura’s arrival in SWLA. That was truly a trial by fire. But I learned so much during that event.”

The educational component for first responders is always challenging. Often, they are working while attending classes. Sometimes there are clinical assignments, as well. “(Education and training) consumed my life for a year and a half,” recalls Savoy. “Knowing that I had chosen a career in EMS, I wanted to take it as far as I could. After I did that with my certifications, I decided to further my career and move into management. In 2017, I applied for the paramedic field supervisor position and got the job. 

“At the time, there had never been a female supervisor in the Lake Area. My acceptance changed that. After five years as a PFS, I applied to move up into an operation supervisor position. In October of 2022, I was promoted to operation supervisor. To me it was a huge accomplishment not only because I was promoted, but also because I was the first female operation supervisor in SWLA for Acadian.”

In that role, Savoy has earned numerous awards, including meritorious service awards, the President’s Performance Award and the Acadian Pride Award. “I take pride in my accomplishments and hope to show other females that it can be done. I truly enjoy being a female paramedic. I have found my true calling in life and wouldn’t change a thing. Being a paramedic isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely the right job for me!”

As a senior Sergeant at LCPD, currently assigned to A-shift, Wall has been a police officer for almost 23 years, as well as an MP for five years before that. She still loves her job. “When you join law enforcement you become part of a large family,” she says. “I have two sons, 14 and 16. When I started out, I did sometimes feel that some of the male officers did not accept females as officers, mainly the older guys. 

“However, I haven’t felt that way in a long time; females seem to be more accepted now. I did feel that I had to prove myself when I got hired, which is why I tell new females to do the same. The sooner they show their peers they can do the job, the sooner they will be accepted into the flock. Just because I am a female does not mean that I should not be given the same opportunity as a male officer.”

Vincent advises young girls to never give up on their dreams for any career. “When asked, I tell any female to go for it, always set your goals high and never stop succeeding,” she says. “I am surrounded by family, friends and coworkers who believe in me and support who I am. I currently work for Acadian Air Med, a company that thrives on treating people equally, and for that I am so thankful.”

Ryan notes that even now, less than 5 percent of female career firefighters in Calcasieu Parish. She would like to see this change.  “I am excited to hear about a program that the Southwest Louisiana Firefighter Association is trying to bring here, it’s called Camp Fury, a Girl Scouts’ program,” she says. “The camp’s focus is for young ladies to work alongside some elite female firefighters, law enforcement officers and paramedics,  to be exposed to various emergency service entities as career choices. This program will let young ladies know that the physical side is a lot of fun, but that the mental challenge is where women really excel. This could help recruit more women into emergency services.” 

Ryan recently retired from the SFD after 20 years. She continues to work part time as a paramedic with Cameron Parish Ambulance District 2, as a reserve marshal for Ward 3 Marshal’s office, and as a training tech for Calcasieu Emergency Response Training Center. 

“My passion will always be firefighting as I am still a member of Ward 7 Volunteer Fire District 1,” she says. “I know it may sound cliché, but being there for someone having their worst day is an amazing feeling. It’s more amazing with a great team to achieve the best outcome for the person and community.”

Savoy agrees, saying she counsels young girls to keep dreaming big. “Being a female should not hold you back from what you truly want to do or who you want to become. I personally strive to be the female that other females in the EMS field look at and say: ‘I want to be like her.’” 

Katie Black

Who You Gonna Call? 

The Ultimate Emergency Responder ~ By Madelaine B. Landry


The ultimate female “emergency responder,” in a man’s profession might just be a female minister. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.6 percent of clergy are women. Many religious sects do not ordain women. Katie Black, a 2013 McNeese graduate, served as a pastor in Lake Charles from 2015 to 2021. On July 1, she stepped into the pulpit at Houma First United Methodist Church. 

 “I firmly believe that all of us have a calling,” she says, “and the question isn’t whether we are called, but ‘to where’ or ‘to whom’ we are called. 

“I heard a whisper from God to become a minister in the United Methodist Church when I was in college at McNeese State University and working at my home church, Henning Memorial United Methodist Church in Sulphur. That whisper slowly grew to become something I couldn’t ignore.

 “There are many needs that a person has: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Through this calling, I could meet a spiritual need, but also other needs. Things intertwine in ways that we don’t fully understand. I felt a call to be in the church, and specifically I felt a call to meet needs within the United Methodist Church.

 “I was blessed enough to grow up in a denomination that ordained women. They’ve been ordaining women for longer than I’ve been alive. I’d witnessed the incredibly faithful men and women in the pulpit for decades. So when I felt the call, it was a very natural thing to step into ministering to others. The only problem was learning to trust that God doesn’t just call men and women ‘out there somewhere.’ God calls me and you, too, to serve and meet people where they are. 

 “Though I’d never considered myself to be an emergency responder in the same way that many other first responders are, we all have a call to do our part and help out where we can — to use the gifts and talents we possess. I hope to be able to use mine in this world to make a positive impact. And I hope to help others do the same with their gifts. We can all use our skill sets to meet needs and create change in this world, which is often starved of kindness, compassion and love. In this way, we can all be emergency responders, when we commit to see and sincerely care for the people around us. It can make a world of difference.” 

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